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Why Every Backpacker in New Zealand Should Cook With Kumara


Sweet as Sweet potatoes!

New Zealanders love their sweet potatoes, or as it is known here, kumara! With some semi-tropical regions in the North Island giving an ideal growing climate, you know that kumara in New Zealand is going to taste mighty good. Better yet, it’s cheap, versatile and has good nutritional benefits, so it is a great ingredient to incorporate into your diet while doing a working holiday or backpacking through New Zealand.

Take a look at the recipes below to see how you can use these nifty sweet potatoes. If you are travelling alone, get the Tupperware boxes at the ready because there are going to be some leftovers – not always a bad thing, because who wants to spend too long cooking every day? And for more hostel recipes, take a look at 7 Easy Hostel-Friendly Microwave Recipes.

Extra tip: get yourself a small measuring jug, as hostels tend to not have anything for measuring. Measuring jugs are super handy for both liquid measurements and weights. Roughly, 100ml on the measuring jug is 100g, and so on.

How to select and store kumara

So, you rock into Pakn’Save and you are all like: “Which kumara do I buy?” Select kumara that has an even colour all over, firm and doesn’t have any nasty-looking blemishes. The kumara with the most nutritional value are a deep colour.

There are three types of kumara:

  • Red kumara – pretty sweet and most recognised in New Zealand
  • Gold kumara – Sweeter than red kumara
  • Orange kumara – The sweetest

Now store them in a dark well-ventilated place. Basically, not in the heat, but definitely not in the fridge!

Learn more about Food Shopping in New Zealand and 11 Backpacker Tips to Save Money on Food.

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 Matt Barber on Flickr

Kumara mash

Need a quick and tasty side dish? Kumara mash is like mash potato but better!

  • 3 – Kumara with the skin left on
  • 2 tbsp – Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 4 tbsp – Cream

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

  1. 2. Cover the kumara in half the oil and season with salt and pepper.
  2. 3. Prick the skin of the kumara and bake in the oven for 45 minutes (or until tender).
  3. 4. Peel and mash with the cream and remaining oil.

For a quicker kumara mash with fewer ingredients, because, you know, we’re backpackers don’t always have the luxuries in life like cream, simply boil an unpeeled kumara for 35-45 minutes until tender. Drain, peel and mash.


Kumara and chicken bake

We’ve all experienced it as backpackers, where you have been eating pure crap for so long that when you come across some reasonably-priced vegetables, you go crazy and buy heaps! Of course, you can always select your preferred vegetables and meat for this recipe, but here’s a suggestion for a healthy fresh veggie meal!

  • 3/4 – Chicken thigh fillets, halved
  • 2 – Kumara, peeled and diced
  • 1 – Lemon, sliced
  • 1 – Red onion, cut into wedges
  • 2 – Red capsicum, cut into wedges
  • 2 tbsp – Rosemary, chopped
  • 2 tbsp – Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 250g – Cherry tomatoes (or normal tomatoes, cut into wedges)
  1. 1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
    2. Line base of the baking dish with baking paper so it’s easier to clean.
  2. 3. Chuck all the chicken, kumara, lemon, onion, capsicum and rosemary in the dish.
  3. 4. Drizzle the olive oil on top.
  4. 5. Season with salt and pepper, then toss all ingredients together so they are coated in oil.
  5. 6. Bake for 25 minutes, then scatter the tomatoes on top.
  6. 7. Bake for another 10 minutes, until the chicken and kumara are tender.

 Stacy Spensley on Flickr

Kumara Wedges

Another side dish which is super yummy! Kumara wedges is a good option if your hostel or flat is doing a “pot luck” dinner. It’s simple to make and a crowd-pleaser.

  • 3 – Kumara, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 2 tbsp – Olive oil
  • 1 tbsp – Sugar
  • Salt
  • 1 tbsp – Other spice (chipotle powder/paprika/Chinese five-spice/Cajun seasoning)
  1. 1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
  2. 2. Put kumara into a large bowl and add the oil.
  3. 3. Mix well to cover the kumara in oil then season with salt, sugar and spice.
  4. 4. Spread kumara onto an oven tray.
  5. 5. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn over all the wedges.
  6. 6. Bake for a further 10-15 minutes, until nicely brown and tender.

 Clotee Pridgen Allochuku on Flickr

Stuffed Cheese and herbs Kumara

A classic New Zealand dish: stuffed kumara! These go well with a side salad or simply all alone. This also goes well with some mushrooms and broccoli added to the recipe.

  • 2 – Kumara
  • 1/4 – Onion, finely chopped
  • 1 – Clove of garlic
  • 200g – Cheese
  • 100g – Sour cream
  • 1 tsp – Butter
  • 1/2 tbsp – Parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 tbsp – Coriander, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
2. Poke holes in the kumara and put them on a baking tray and bake for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly saute the onion and garlic and set aside.
4. Take kumara out of the oven and leave until it is cool enough to handle.
5. Cut off the tops of kumara, scoop out the inside and place the insides in a bowl, while keeping the rest of the kumara skin intact.
6. Mash the kumara insides, then mix in the onion, garlic, half the cheese, sour cream, butter, parsley and coriander.
7. Put the mixed kumara back into the skins and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
8. Put the kumara under the grill until the cheese has melted, then take out of the oven.

Food for backpackers

What else can you cook while travelling in New Zealand?

As we know, cooking for yourself is the best way to save money on food while backpacking in New Zealand. Here are some more food articles to help you on your way.

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